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The Roanoke Girls: A Novel - Amy Engel

Eleven years ago Lane Roanoke ran away from her grandparents house in Osage Flats and vowed never to return. But then her cousin Allegra goes missing and she is drawn back to the house she spent a long hot summer in. What has happened to Allegra? And why do all of the Roanoke girls either run away or die?

 

A few people who saw me reading this book commented on the beautiful cover. In this case this book is the embodiment of the adage ‘Don’t judge a book by it’s cover’ for it’s beautiful frontage conceals a dark tale.

 

I had been warned before I read this book that it would be traumatic and disturbing. Being the person I am I therefore started to guess at what the story could be about. I had therefore already drawn my own conclusions before I started to read. Once I did pick the book up my thoughts were confirmed. It was at this point I put the book down for a while. Not because I found the story too traumatic. Mainly it was because I was a little disappointed that I had been proved right, contrary person that I am. I think I was hoping for something to surprise me, to shock me and because I had anticipated it, the shocking reveal fell flat. (Now this storyline is revealed early in the book for it makes up most of the narrative. I’m not going to spoil it for you and reveal it here, there are no doubt other reviews that will tell all if you want to find out before reading.) So I let the book sit for a while, read another book but then decided to pick this one up again. And I’m glad I did.

 

None of the characters are particularly likeable, with perhaps the exception of Cooper and Tommy. All have their own secrets to keep, things in their history that have shaped them today. Lane is the outcome of her upbringing, raised by a mother who showed no love, looking after herself from the age of 16, all the distrust and betrayal shaping her into a woman who is outwardly tough, but still lost on the inside. Cooper, subject to his own traumatic childhood, has emerged a more resilient man, determined to not become his father, something that drives him every day. The other characters are all well drawn, and I wouldn’t want to spoil it by describing them here for you. They all have secrets that have shaped their lives, which have impacted on others and which have far reaching ramifications for themselves and others.

 

The town of Osage Flats and the house of Roanoke are also characters, the small town almost aiding in the disappearance of Allegra and the other Roanoke Girls, allowing the secrets to be kept, to not be questioned. The weather is oppressively hot, stifling the will of the residents. The saying goes that only mad dogs and Englishmen go out in the midday sun. Perhaps it should be amended to include the Roanokes too.

 

It has been said that this book is a marmite book – you’ll either love it or hate it. I like to be different and whilst I didn’t love the book, I didn’t hate it either. It’s hard to say that you can ‘enjoy’ a book with this subject but in the sense that it was an entertaining, readable book, I did enjoy it. I enjoyed reading about the present day Lane, and seeing how her relationship with Cooper, the boy she left behind, developed. The storyline of what happened to Allegra is almost a side story, something to tie up the story of 16 year old Lane and the Lane who returns to Roanoke 11 years later.

 

It is a story about the secrets we keep and the secrets we share, of how selfish acts can destroy but also how they can save, of the toxicity that love can bring but also of the freedom it can also deliver.